Karly Allen: So we’re standing in front of a painting of Saint Lucy which has particular significance for December because Saint Lucy’s feast day is on 13 December, which by the unreformed Julian calendar in the past was the longest night of the year. And her name derived from ‘lucs’, the Latin for light, helping us to understand her meaning that she is the way of light. So she has this very particular significance during the winter. In the ‘Golden Legend’, we’re told right from the start that the most important element of her story is that she was a very chaste virgin and that she vowed to retain her virginity. She refused to be married and she decided to give away her dowry instead and in fact her intended… she had been betrothed to one suitor and when he finds out that she’s happily giving away what’s going to become his wealth, he’s not too happy. So he reports her to the authorities and she is rounded up and tortured and there’s this really rather surprising account of how when she’s being dragged away, her body is filled with the holy spirit and she becomes so heavy that she’s rooted to the ground. They bring 1,000 men to drag her away and they can’t manage it. Then they bring 1,000 oxen, but still she’s unmoveable and she dies there on the spot.
James Heard: I’m actually rather puzzled because reading the section on Saint Lucy it doesn’t mention what I see in the painting, which is this lady holding a plate with her eyes.
Karly Allen: We can see that Lucy in fact has two pairs of eyes in this painting, painted very differently. One set, sitting on the plate, as James mentioned, and the other gazing heavenwards, so her eyes are very distinctive; she glances upwards out of the painting, whilst sort of offering up this plate. And because of Lucy’s connection with light, and seeing the light and vision, a lot of legends arose around this theme of her eyes and her eyes being removed, and it is very interesting that in fact in the ‘Golden Legend’, for some reason, the compiler decided to edit this out, which is strange when we think of how many paintings there are of Saint Lucy, and this is her emblem, this is her attribute, her eyes on a plate.
From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Twenty Six, December 2008